Getting a job is hard.
But it’s harder to keep that job.
It’s hard taking charge of that job and turning it into something you find valuable and fulfilling. What’s hard is becoming so valuable they have to pay you more, bend the rules for you, and otherwise grant you what you want because they know you could go elsewhere and have dozens of opportunities lined up.
For this post, I’m going to assume you already have a job and you’re asking the question, “What now?”
Maybe you’ve realized you’ve oversold yourself, and now you feel out of your league. Maybe you’re stuck getting coffee and doing other intern-level tasks, and you want to break out of that. Perhaps you simply don’t want to make entry-level pay in a dead-end position for much longer.
Whatever it is, there’s a way to fix it. I’ve learned a lot in my three years since dropping out of college. I’ve worked with dozens of businesses and people from all over the world and have had a fair share of success (with a few failures thrown in).
The steps you can take are surprisingly simple and reproducible. Master them, and you’ll accelerate your career by five times or more and begin to achieve things you thought were reserved for a very narrow group of people (hint: they are. But you’ll be one of them).
1. Always ask, “Am I creating more value than I take out in salary?”
Your personality, your previous work–these can all be important to your long-term success at a company. What’s more important, though, is your ability to create value.
I don’t mean that in an abstract way. I don’t mean you’re simply doing the tasks your boss gives you and then going home.
I mean you need to create more value than you take out in salary and then some. Chances are to do this, you’ll need to go above and beyond your job responsibilities. That’s okay.
When you’ve just started, anything should be fair game. Rather than asking, “Am I getting a good deal?”, you should be asking, “Am I giving my employer an offer he can’t say, ‘No,’ to?” The only way to do this is to be constantly looking for opportunities to do more.
2. Document your work internally.
Don’t expect your colleagues to know what you’re working on. They’re busy with their own stuff. They probably don’t see what you do every day.
For the first year I worked at Praxis, I bcc’ed the CEO on every email. I did this because I wanted him to be aware, every day, of what I was working on. I wanted there to be no doubt in his mind what I was doing and what I was creating.
Looking back, I probably could have gone further. Every morning, I should’ve sent him my daily task list. I should’ve done a better job at quantifying the results, and I should’ve communicated more with my other colleagues.
One of the things my intern-turned-employee did was create videos documenting his work. I loved this, even if I didn’t watch the full thing. It told me he took his job with the team seriously.
Note: none of this means be annoying. Give them a chance to opt out of your updates at any time.
3. To accelerate your career, document your work externally and become an evangelist.
You should own what your company is selling and share what you’re working on with the world. Become known not as a marketer, but a marketer at the company you’re working at. I’ve used Facebook, public speaking, Quora, and a blog to do this.
Early on, this signaled to my colleagues I loved my work and I was committed to doing it well. Not only that, but it brought in new business and turned my personal network into a reliable source of leads.
You should start doing this now. Write about how you got your job, why you love working at the company, what products you sell, what tools you use, who your customers are. Show a genuine interest in the success of the business beyond your immediate job, and your employer will start to show an interest in you.
4. Adopt an abundance mindset, and don’t be attached to your job.
Don’t be guarded about who gets to do what and who gets credit for what. If a colleague does a task that is normally your responsibility, the correct response is not, “Hey, you’re interfering with my job.” The correct response is for you to say, “Thanks!”, then move on to find something else you can do with the time your colleague saved you.
If you want to move up quickly, your goal shouldn’t be to keep a particular job or title. It should be to grow the business in any way you can. If that means having someone else take on tasks to free you up to do more valuable work, you should consider that a win for you and the business, not a threat.
5. Underpromise and overdeliver.
I still have this problem. For various reasons, I tend to overpromise. While I always get my work done, I’ve created unnecessary stress by not setting proper expectations. The way around this is to be honest.
If your colleague asks you to do something by a certain date, don’t agree to it unless you know you can do it. It’s much better to set an extended deadline in advance, then deliver earlier than expected.
6. Show an interest in other departments.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your job and forget there’s a bigger picture going on at the company.
If you want to grow in your role and responsibilities, the best way to do it is to become an expert in everything that is happening at the business. Get to know your colleagues and what they do. Learn their jobs by helping them out when you can. They’ll start to see you as someone who can be relied upon and who cares about the success of the company as a whole.
If you can, find opportunities to insert yourself into higher-level conversations without being nosy. Small bits of input go a long way when it comes to your colleagues deciding to confide more in you.
7. Communicate clearly and effectively.
Even if you do everything right, you’ll limit yourself if your colleagues can’t understand you or find you time costly to communicate with.
Often when I onboard new interns this is a mistake they make. They’ll want to work on something, and they’ll send a long, fluffy email that is difficult to scan and digest. It’s hard to get what you want when your communication is like this.
Instead, you should always send concise, actionable emails and messages. If possible, it should be falsifiable (yes/no) as well.
One more thing: don’t ask a question if you can get the answer yourself. Many people ask questions as a way of signaling their level of interest and engagement. They don’t realize back-and-forth questioning and answering is time-consuming and will drain the energy of your colleagues.
If you want to signal interest and engagement, create more. Do more. Build more.
8. Adopt the principle of charitable interpretation.
Sometimes my colleagues annoy me. Sometimes I annoy them. We make it work by assuming the best intentions, always. This is something that is beaten out of us in school.
In school, we learn to compete. We learn to create social drama and, in turn, to assume the worst in people. This is a terrible mindset to import to your work. Instead, you should assume everyone has the same goal: to build the company.
You should demand from yourself to have absolute evidence of ill intent before you call someone out on it. There’s nothing more costly than making your team feel you don’t trust them or that you doubt their integrity.
Be above the petty drama that comes into play at most companies. It won’t serve you well.
9. Don’t wait for instructions. Kill your permission-based mindset. Become an idea machine.
I talked with someone the other day who told me he was unfulfilled in his work and didn’t feel like he was creating value.
When I asked him to elaborate, he said, “My manager doesn’t give me enough stuff to do.”
This is the exact opposite of the mindset you should have.
Rather than waiting for your manager to give you permission to work on certain things, you should be throwing so many ideas at him he can’t keep up with you.
There’s always more to do. Telling yourself otherwise is an excuse for mediocrity, and you’ll get mediocre outcomes because of this.
James Altucher has a practice of writing out ten business ideas every day. You could do the same for your work. Every day when you come into the office, the first thing you should do is sit down and write ten things you could do for the business.
Don’t limit yourself. Think up some crazy ideas, and include those in your list. One or two of them might stick out each time. By doing this, you’re certain to never run out of tasks.
One more thing: remember, your supervisor has other things going on. They may be your manager, but they’re not there to hold your hand. Don’t force your individual responsibility of being an independent, thinking being on them. You’ll be unhappy, unfulfilled, and unsuccessful.